You have to hand it to them; they didn’t lie when they titled it The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. This sequel to 2012’s surprise hit, about a group of ageing British expats who move into a charming Jaipur hotel to reinvent their golden years, is warm and fuzzy and light-hearted like the earlier film, but also over-plotted and occasionally contrived. However, it’s hard to resist the pleasure of the company of its terrific actors who iron out the script’s creases with their winning performances.
The new film opens with Sunny Kapoor (Dev Patel), the hotel’s manic, obsessive owner, and his manager Muriel (Maggie Smith), traveling to America to meet with potential investors to secure backing for a second hotel. Meanwhile, back in Japur, Sunny’s fiancee Sunaina (Tina Desai) is making preparations for their wedding, even as the golden oldies staying at their establishment wrestle with issues of commitment and failing health. 79-year-old Evelyn (Judi Dench) has just been hired as a full-time employee for a fabrics firm, even as she continues to be wooed gently by Douglas (Bill Nighy). Madge (Celia Imrie) is torn between two suitors, while Norman (Ronald Pickup) is worried that his partner is cheating on him. Thrown into this mix is Richard Gere, playing a mysterious gent by the name of Guy Chambers, who Sunny is convinced is the undercover hotel inspector dispatched by the investors to evaluate their operations.
If you’re willing to overlook all the blatant stereotyping and the ‘exotic India’ cliches, there’s much to enjoy here, particularly the verbal sparring between Dames Maggie Smith and Judi Dench who exchange bitchy repartee that had me chuckling at every instance. It’s true the film packs in more than it can comfortably handle in its two-hour running time. The romance between Richard Gere’s character and Sunny’s mother (Lilette Dubey) feels too convenient, and only crowds the narrative. Meanwhile, Sunny’s personal and professional insecurity over a male friend of Sunaina is unconvincing beyond a point. And yet there’s a sweetness to the proceedings that completely disarms you.
Director John Madden offers another affectionate portrait of ageing and second chances in this sentimental but always charming comedy that deserves a watch if only for its terrific A-list cast. I’m going with three out of five for The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It’s the kind of film you’ll want to take your mum to.